NAGANO, Japan ( KYODO ) : Mt Fuji is increasingly becoming a popular destination for foreign tourists amid a record-breaking number of people visiting Japan from abroad.
The 3,776-meter volcano, which straddles Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures, was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2013 as an “object of worship” and “wellspring of art.”
Some 200,000 people climb Mt Fuji each year via the Yoshida Trail that leads to the summit of the tallest mountain in Japan from its north side in Yamanashi. Foreign visitors account for some 30% of those trekkers on weekdays and 20% on weekends, according to an Environment Ministry survey conducted in August last year.
Willer Travel Inc, an Osaka-based travel agency, recently arranged a group tour to Mt Fuji, consisting of 23 tourists from the United States and eight European, Asian and other countries.
Mike Powell, 31, who took part in the tour from the United States with his wife, said the couple wanted to climb the most famous mountain in Japan.
As suggested by Powell, tourists from abroad often visit Mt. Fuji as a sightseeing spot rather than a mountain to conquer.
In a bus on the way to the mountain, tour guide Eri Kodama, 23, told the participants to climb slowly, using illustrations, so as to avoid altitude sickness.
“It’s important to give instructions together with their reasons” to foreign visitors, Kodama said. “As many foreign tourists have no experience of mountain climbing, I take more care in guiding foreigners than Japanese.”
Members of the tour group spent ample time on warm-up exercises and huddled to get psyched up before climbing the mountain.
At the seventh station of Mt Fuji where the trail becomes steeper, a sea of clouds spread out below the climbers. “Beautiful,” Toh Xiao Yu, 26, from Singapore said, adding that her country has no place to see such a scene.
The group took six and a half hours to reach a mountain lodge for an overnight stay.
Foreign visitors account for 40% of overnight quests, said Akira Kajihara, 71, who operates the lodge. “I thank them for coming here as the number of Japanese guests is decreasing,” he said.
In last year’s Environment Ministry survey, more than 70% of lodge operators on Mt Fuji said they had more foreign guests than in the previous year.
Members of the tour group woke up at 1 a.m. the following day and began climbing the mountain, wearing headlamps. They reached the summit in about two hours. Watching the sun’s rays peep through the clouds, one of them said, “It’s like heaven.”
Some 75 percent of foreign trekkers who responded to the ministry survey said they saw sunrise on Mt Fuji, with nearly 80% of them having been “very satisfied” with the experience.
After descending the mountain, the tour participants bathed in a hot spring, feeling closer to each other than when the tour started.
“The biggest attraction of climbing Mt Fuji is allowing people of different cultural backgrounds to go hand-in-hand toward a common goal while understanding each other,” Kodama said.